A look at what might have been
FORT MONTGOMERY, N.Y. - For all but one of the Penguins players training at the United States Military Academy, this week at West Point is a glimpse into a life much different from their own.
For defenseman Mark Eaton, it is a glimpse into what life almost was.
Eaton applied to West Point when he was a senior in high school. After going through what he called the "long and arduous" admissions process, he was denied because he has asthma.
"I wouldn't trade where I am right now for anything in the world, but it's just funny how certain things shape your life and how a simple thing like asthma can have such a big change in your life," Eaton said Wednesday. "Instead of going to West Point, I'm in my ninth year of pro hockey. But it seems like a win-win situation."
Eaton, a native of Wilmington, Del., has no family military tradition, but a trip to West Point with his junior hockey team to play the Army's junior varsity squad sparked his interest.
"Anybody who's been here can see the beauty and the history of this place and the way it makes you feel when you're here," he said. "It gave me the bug a little bit."
In high school, Eaton said he didn't think a career as a professional hockey player was realistic. He'd had an interest in the FBI growing up and knew West Point would give him a chance to pursue that career path.
"This place is second to none when it comes to preparing you for the real world and setting yourself up for the rest of your life," he said. "That was my whole thought process."
Eaton was disappointed to be rejected, especially for something like asthma. But he also is the first to admit life has worked out well nonetheless.
Eaton, 29, went on to play two years in the U.S. Hockey League, was accepted to Notre Dame and, after a year there, was signed as a free agent by the Philadelphia Flyers. He was traded to the Nashville Predators in 2001. Penguins general manager Ray Shero, previously the assistant GM in Nashville, signed Eaton as a free agent in July.
"I wouldn't say I'm grateful for (asthma), but it's just the way it worked out," Eaton said.
Going through activities with first sergeant J.B. Spisso for the past few days has made Eaton think about what could have been.
It's made some of his teammates think, as well.
After Tuesday's off-ice workouts, Spisso gathered the players around to remind them that hockey isn't life or death and for that they should be grateful.
"He said if you have a bad game or a bad day, you can go to bed that night knowing you're going to see your family and friends and come to the rink tomorrow and do things all over again," center Sidney Crosby said. "If you're in battle, if you're in a war, it's not like that. You're not always around friends and family, and you might not live to see the next day. He made us realize that when things are tough, they are tough for us, but it's a lot tougher for other people. He made us realize how lucky we are."
The Penguins players were also told about 1st Lt. Derek S. Hines, who played hockey for West Point and was killed in Afghanistan on Sept. 1, 2005. His photograph adorns several walls of the locker rooms at the Holleder Center.
"It makes us realize there are guys giving their lives for us, so we can play this game and entertain people," Eaton said. "It makes us put things in perspective and makes us realize what we do really is a game and what these guys do in the real battles and real wars is so that we can do what we do."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.